[Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other members of the Filipino Freethinkers.]
There are some laws that a country should pass if it is to make progress into the 21st century. The Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill) is one of them. But there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the said proposed bill. For this we should congratulate the Catholic Church hierarchy, especially the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), for making a controversy out of something that shouldn’t be controversial at all. (Media sensationalism has its role in this one, too.)
Debate rages on. Now, that’s supposed to be a good thing. After all, a world without arguments is a world without truth. However, a lot of time has been wasted on discussions that have nothing or little to do with the very real and urgent problem at hand.
Here are just some of the things that debates on the RH Bill, like the upcoming “Grand Debate” on GMA, shouldn’t be about.
1. Overpopulation and population control: Even if the Philippines were not over populated, the RH Bill should still be passed. Although it is intimately related to the population issue, at the heart of the RH Bill is an issue of human rights, not population control. “Do poor people have the right to have state-supported family planning options and accurate information? Do our young people have the right to scientifically accurate and age-appropriate sex education?” To oppose the RH Bill is to answer these questions with a no. That is, to oppose the RH Bill is to deny poor women of the right to accessible reproductive health options. To say no to the RH Bill is to say that our young people should not be given correct information regarding their reproductive health and sexuality.
Don’t get me wrong. Like any rational person, I would like to see the CBCP get creamed in a debate on overpopulation. But time is running out. We can discuss the population issue some other time. For now, we must tackle the heart of the problem, and the heart of the problem is an issue of human rights, not overpopulation.
After all, the RH Bill is not a One Child Policy. The RH Bill, unlike the Catholic hierarchy, will not impose anything to anyone; it will merely provide options to those who don’t currently have them. The Bill won’t stop people from “going out to the world and multiplying” if they want to. Its goal is to help those who need help. And they need help now.
2. Artificial contraception: Yes, the RH Bill will make condoms and pills available. But aren’t they already? It’s not like artificial contraceptives are illegal in this country. Bottom line: the RH Bill is not about artificial contraception, it is about the right of the poor, especially of poor women, to have access to the birth control method of their choice. This gets buried under many debates, so I will have to stress it again: The RH Bill will give poor women a choice. When the RH Bill becomes law, the government won’t go around forcing women to take birth control pills, or sneaking into people’s houses at night and to perform vasectomies on sleeping husbands. Unlike the Catholic Church, the RH Bill won’t make the state shove anything down anyone’s throat.
However, when the RH Bill gets passed, the poor will then have many options suddenly opened to them. So to be anti-RH is not to be anti-contraceptives but to be anti-poor. If you really are anti-contraceptives, why waste your time fighting the RH Bill? Why not go fight the Big Pharma companies that are producing and distributing those “evil” oral contraceptives. Or why not go fight Captain Condom, the super-elastic superhero who can withstand tremendous stress, strain and pressure, and who will stop at nothing to kill our sacred, God-given sperm cells?
3. Elimination of poverty: No RH Bill proponent or supporter would ever claim that the RH Bill is the answer to all the woes of Philippine society. However, the RH Bill is an essential part of a program to combat poverty. Once the RH Bill becomes law, poor women will gain control over their fertility. This will increase their social mobility and will therefore increase their capability to contribute to the country’s labor force. This will also allow poor families to better allocate their limited resources to the children they chose to have. The end result is that our country’s young will end up being better taken care of. This translates to more Rizals and Benigno Aquinos. Or, if you want, more Pacquiaos.
4. Pre-marital sex: It is not the state’s duty to endorse, much less enforce, a particular religious morality. The only morality that government is mandated to enforce is secular morality. This means that as far as the state is concerned, the morality or ethicality of a sexual act has nothing to do with whether priests, pastors or imams have given their go signal. If the bishops want to meddle with the sex lives of their followers, they must not ask the government’s help to do it. (After all, in some areas, especially in those concerning children, they seem to know just how to do it. And they know how to keep it to themselves as well.)
In fact, based on a secular morality, it is the bishops who are on the immoral side of the issue. Why? Because in the 21st century, sexual intercourse must be considered ethical only if all the parties directly involved have agreed to the act and if they possess accurate knowledge of the consequences. This means that opposing the RH Bill because it aims to improve the state of sex education in the Philippines is immoral, since it will make our citizens ignorant of the consequences and responsibilities that come with having sex. Such ignorance translates to more cases of HIV infections/AIDS and more untimely pregnancies, both of which are truly detrimental to our country’s welfare.
Now, based on their statements, many enemies of the Bill seem to consider morality as synonymous to ignorance regarding sexual matters. For them, a scientifically-informed awareness of human sexuality is detrimental to the country’s moral health. One is reminded of anti-RH signs saying “Values education, not sex education”. What kind of bankrupt minds can think of such an absurd and obviously false dichotomy?
Such moral idiocy on the part of the anti-RH camp makes the old Victorians look broad-minded. Given the desire of our country for economic, social and moral progress in the 21st century, such moral idiocy should not be listened to in the halls of Congress. The RH Bill should be passed, and it should be passed as soon as possible.
No time should be wasted on having useless debates that have little or even nothing to do with the very real and pressing problem at hand.